There were smiles, sighs and only a few tears at the last of the Illawarra Spelling Bee finals yesterday as students navigated their way through rigmarole, drudgery, lethargy and innuendo.
Regional finals for the statewide spelling competition have been held over the past two weeks, with 338 students from 86 Illawarra schools taking part.
For the 40 Year 3 and 4 students in yesterday morning's final, pressure started to build after round three, causing Wollongong Public School student Teaba Shidid to call out some reassuring words for her fellow contestants.
"If you are out, look on the bright side - you don't have to stress any more," she said.
The stress was evident among parents in the audience who let out audible sighs of relief after each correct word.
Conundrum, mutineer, cornice and bunion tripped up some contestants, while others glided through with befuddle, tyrant and territorial.
Things got really tricky in round seven when students were presented with "unseen words" they hadn't been able to study beforehand, but all four remaining contestants correctly spelt agnostic, insignia, banquet and uncanny.
After 10 rounds, nine-year-old runner-up Abbie Coulson's valiant efforts were derailed by sachet, allowing 10-year-old Dharam Arora to take out first place by correctly spelling the word disperse.
The Fairy Meadow Public School winner will join four other Illawarra finalists at the state finals of the Premier's Spelling Bee, which will be held in Sydney in November.
In the afternoon final for year 5 and 6 students, Woonona East Public School student Sanna Eriksson took out first place with the word derelict. She narrowly beat last year's winner from Wollongong Public School, Savannah Mandakini Dissanayake, who was stumped by the equally difficult soporific.